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The Vatican has been reining in the progressive leadership of American nuns, creating a political test of wills over the future of a faith with one billion adherents worldwide as it braces for an historic papal transition. Described as a modern ‘Inquisition,’ this punitive campaign against the nuns lands on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and raises fundamental questions about the mission of a global church and the role of nuns who were inspired by Vatican II in taking the social justice gospel directly to the world’s poor.

Bishops investigating US nuns have poor records on sex abuse cases

Vatican selections include bishops and cardinals who protected pedophile priests.

of moral trust, much less the law.

Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Missouri, remains in his office despite his conviction in civil court, which did not draw a prison sentence, for concealing a perpetrator. Pope Benedict has not punished any of the hierarchs who recycled so many sex offenders by sending them to other parishes.

The double standard in church governance — men of the hierarchy immune from church justice — has become a glaring issue to leaders of missionary orders in Rome as the CDF probes the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in America.

In 2005, shortly after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger emerged from the conclave as Pope Benedict XVI, he appointed San Francisco Archbishop William Levada to succeed him as prefect of the CDF. Levada became a cardinal soon thereafter.

Levada was caught in a swamp in 2002 amidst news reports on abuse cases under his watch. He formed an Independent Review Board of primarily lay people to advise him and review personnel files on questionable priests. Psychologist James Jenkins chaired the board. Father Greg Ingels, a canon lawyer, helped set it up. Jenkins grew suspicious when Levada would not release the names of priests under scrutiny. 

In May of 2003, board members were stunned on reading news reports that Ingels had been indicted for allegedly having oral sex with a 15-year-old boy at a local high school in the 1970s. Levada, the board learned, had known about the allegations since 1996, yet kept Ingels in ministry and as an adviser. Ingels helped fashion the church's 2002 zero-tolerance policy and wrote a bishops’ guidebook on how to handle abuse cases. Ingels stepped down.

Jenkins quit his post, denouncing Levada for “an elaborate public relations scheme.” 

Robert Mickens reported in The Tablet in May that Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, a protege of Law’s, asked the CDF to investigate LCWR.

Lori established several communities of traditionalist nuns as bishop of Bridgeport, Conn. between 2001 and 2012.

As a canon lawyer, Lori helped write the US bishops’ 2002 youth protection charter. It has no oversight over bishops. In 2003, Lori approved a $21 million abuse victims’ settlement involving several priests. Voice of the Faithful criticized him for allowing an accused monsignor to stay in his parish. In 2011 the priest resigned after a female church worker made sexual harassment allegations.

In a Jan. 12, 2011 Connecticut Post op-ed piece, VOTF leader John Marshall Lee cited a priest who had been suspended for sex abuse yet appeared in clerical attire at public gatherings. 

“Does this behavior contradict Bishop Lori's assumed supervisory orders suspending priestly public activities?” Lee asked. “How does a bishop enforce his instructions in this regard? Where does a whistleblower report this behavior, or determine if the priest in question was suspended in the first place?”

Lee cited another cleric who had been removed after “credible allegations of sexual abuse” but with no indication that he was defrocked. 

“There is no current address for this man who might have been labeled ‘sex offender’ (had the church acted responsibly when leaders first heard of adult criminal behavior perpetrated on Catholic children) and who may continue to be a potential threat to children," Lee continued. "Is the church saying that such men are no longer a public threat to children?”

Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, who wrote the secret report on LCWR for Levada, has said he got most of his information from LCWR literature. Writing in his diocesan paper, Blair made the accurate point that several speakers at LCWR conferences have taken positions, like ordaining women, that are contrary to church teaching.

Does this mean that the ordination of women is a new form of heresy? Can religious conferences function with academic freedom? If the truth of the church is defined by men who have violated basic moral standards of Christian life in disregarding the rights of children and their families, how does their behavior meet the sensus fidelium, or mind of the faithful, extolled by Vatican II?

Blair’s own background spotlights a double standard that rewards bishops who scandalize lay people.

In 2004, the priest in charge of Toledo’s $60 million capital campaign was accused by two men of having abused them as boys many years before. Blair kept Father Robert Yaeger in his fundraising job while